December 17, 2016 7:11:18 pm
Two years after facing the heartbreak of missing out on a title, Kerala Blasters will go all out with a partisan crowd behind them for their maiden Indian Super League title against former champions Atletico de Kolkata in a replay of the summit clash during first edition.
Kerala, who have been in tremendous form during the business end of the league, after a scrappy start, have lost to ATK by a solitary goal during the 2014 edition.
Now, with a capacity crowd of 55,000 exepected to turn up at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here, Steve Coppell’s side are brimming with confidence and they have the reason to do so having won six out of the seven matches that they have played at this venue.
The venue has been like a fortress for the Kerala side though interestingly it is only the ATK, who have beaten Coppell’s side at home and the visiting side have every reason to believe that they can beat the home team tomorrow.
ATK, on the other hand, would be looking to become the first side to lift the title for the second time after the inaugural edition crown.
They have already become the most successful side in the fledging ISL having made it to the last-four in all the three editions and it will be their second final appearance tomorrow.
Tomorow’s grand finale of yet another successful ISL season wil also see two cricket icons Tendulkar and Ganguly, Kolkata, cheering for their respective teams in a match which is exepected to be graced by celebrities from all walks of life including eminent names from Indian film industry.
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan will watch the match along with ISL Chairperson Nita Ambani and All India Football Federation President Praful Patel.
Kerala, who finished last in the second edition last year, have had to struggle more than ATK in their way to the semi-finals and then the final. They began on a scrappy note this season and they were at the bottom half in the first phase of the league with just nine points from seven matches.
They picked up steam in the second part of the league but had to be the last side to book a play-offs berth and that came at their home venue here. They beat Delhi Dynamos in the first leg of the semi-finals here but lost the second leg before making it to the final via the penalty shoot-out.
ATK were the second team to qualify for the semi-finals but they were the side which had the least number of wins in the league phase.
They beat league phase toppers Mumbai at home before holding the same oppenents to a goal-less draw away while playing with 10 men the whole of the second half to make it to summit clash.
ATK defender Arnab Mondal is ruled out of tomorrow’s match having undergone a surgery while the rest of the players are available for selection.
For Kerala, there are no injury issues and all the players are available for tomorow’s match.
Both the coaches said their sides were more than well preaperd for the summit showdown tomorrow while also expressing respect for each other.
“Compliments to Molina to have made nine changes for such an important match (second leg semifinals in Mumbai) and come out victorious (on aggregate after holding Mumbai 0-0 in away match). I have nothing but respect for ATK. He (Molina) knows his players than anyone else. He sees their strength and weaknesses,” said the Englishman, who has been a former Manchester City manager.
“As far as our prepration is concerned, we are pleased to be in the final and we will try our best to win the trophy. Physically, we will be well prepared as can be for a big ocassion like tomorrow.”
He said he was, in fact, amazed at hiw his side reach the final but havung done that the team has prepared well to win the trophy.
“I am amazed how we reach in the final. How we got here, the night against Delhi. We were playing away instead of us playing the second leg here at home. We finished higher than Delhi Dynamos in the league stage and we should have played our second leg at home. You should have given right advantage to the team, which finished higher in the league stage.
“We got through to the final and so I am not going to complain now. We hope to get a good account of ourselves tomorrow,” Copell said.
Coppell would have surely known results in the past, particularly last season when FC Goa played the final at home but lost against Chennaiyin FC.
“It will obviously be a comfortable atmosphere for us because it is our home crowd but the crowd don’t play. They give us huge support. Whoever wins tomorrow needs to earn the trophy by playing well.
“I am sure both sides have that intention going into the game. The crowd is nothing more than a great background for us to play against but it won’t give us a goal-start or stop goals going in,” Coppell added.
“I think it is just neutral. It’s a game. Once the match kicks-off, it does not really matter what happens outside (in the stands),” said Coppell.
Molina was made it clear that he wants the trophy in his first year at the helm of ATK and his side were well prepared for the final despite the home advanatge Kerala will enjoy tomorrow.
“I don’t know whether we are the most consistent. It is true we only lost two matches but I have respect for all teams. Kerala have had a great season but we will try to win. We want the trophy,” said Molina.
“Except for injury to Arnab Mondal, the rest are available. I don’t know ATK is the most consistent team or not. We respect Kerala Blasters. Tomorrow, we have a very tough match and we will do our best to win the trophy,” he said.
Molina said that partisan crowd pressure is not an issue for them.
“I have no issues playing in front of 50,000 crowd supporting the opposition team. But that is good for football. I would have loved to play in front of 60,000 supporting crowd at the Salt Lake but I cannot do anything now. But the important thing is what happens inside the pitch. It is not important what happens outside the pitch.”
ATK marquee player Helder Postiga said Kerala defence was the best this ISL season but he wants to lift the trophy in his second year with the side.
“I expect a big atmosphere tomorrow. It is one of the best atmosphere in ISL. When we played here, we saw how difficult Kerala can be a difficult team,” said Postiga.
Both sides have terrific players upfront this season. ATK have Canadian Iain Hume, who has scored seven goals so far, and Postiga while Blasters have the likes of Haitian international Duckens Nazon, who scored against Delhi Dynamos in the second leg semi-final besides best prolific India international CK Vineeth, who has scored five goals.
It may ultimately boil down on who has the better defence between the two sides tomorrow.
Postiga conceded that Kerala have the best defence among the ISL teams, saying,”I think not one players but the most consistent defence is that of the Kerala team. It is the team which is most difficult to score a goal against. They play like a unit. So the best defence is in Kerala marshalled by marquee player Aaron Hughes.”
Coppell, on the other hand, said his side will have to try to stop Hume if he plays tomorrow.
“Hume is a terrific player and his reason to play is to score and he must be desparate to score and I think at the back of his heart he must be thinking that he had enjoyed his stint here. We will try to stop him tomorrow if he is playing and we don’t know if he is playing. If he is playing we will try to stop him because it is important to keep him quiet.”
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